The best diet for weight loss is a personalized plan that works best for you.
What’s the best diet for weight loss? It’s a question I hear all the time. Often when I meet a patient for the first time, they’ll say to me, “I heard that the best way to lose weight is to go vegan” or, “stay away from carbs” or, “stop eating after 5 o’clock.” And I always say the same thing: “The best weight loss diet is the one that works for you.” If there were a single best diet for weight loss—one that worked for everyone—we probably wouldn’t hear about some new diet craze every few months.
I consult for Herbalife, a company that markets weight-loss products and programs, and I believe there’s really no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to a weight loss diet. Maybe you know someone who lost weight by going vegan, or cutting carbs, or by not eating after the sun goes down. But you know yourself well enough to know that those strategies just won’t work for you.
That’s why when I first meet with someone, we don’t try to fix the problem until we know exactly what the problem is. If I were meeting with you, I’d ask you to give me an idea of what you typically eat in a day, and then I’d ask you where you think the problem lies. Are you an emotional eater, grabbing food when you’re lonely, or down or bored? Do you eat when you aren’t really hungry? Do you skip meals? Do you eat the right foods but have a problem controlling portions? Is it frequent travel and dining out that trips you up?
From there, I’d suggest that you take a few days to take a good, honest look at your dietary habits. You’d keep a food diary and write down everything you ate, and how much. You’d note what your mood was before you ate, what triggered you to eat, and your mood afterwards. You’d also rate your hunger level before you started, and your fullness level when you were through. You’d keep track of how many meals you prepared, and how many you ate out.
After a few days, you’d have a pretty good idea of what you need to work on and how you can create a personalized weight loss plan that’s going to work for you. Maybe you eat in restaurants frequently because you don’t like to cook, or because you travel a lot. So, that “raw food diet” your friends are raving about might not work for you. Maybe you skip meals because you think it will help you cut calories, but your diary tells you that when you finally do eat that you’re absolutely starving—and way beyond stuffed when you’re full. Maybe your weight loss strategy is to eat a salad every day for lunch, but you realize that you just don’t like them.
The best weight loss diet for you is one that will take all these factors into account—your lifestyle, your usual eating patterns, your likes and dislikes. I can’t stress how important this is, because the one thing you can’t (and shouldn’t) do is to put your life on hold in order to lose weight. Remember, whatever you do in order to get the weight off is the same thing you’re going to do in order to keep it off. You’re just practicing for the long run, so you may as well figure it out from the starting gate.
That said, there are some basic guidelines that can help you create the “best weight loss diet.” Use these principles as the basis for your own personalized plan.
In order to lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn every day. Weigh yourself weekly. Fridays are good: if you’ve had a good week, the scale will tell you so, and it’ll help you stay on track for the weekend. A safe rate of weight loss is 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week. If you’re not losing at that rate, you need to cut calories and/or portions and step up your activity.
Fish, poultry breast, lean meats, low fat dairy products, protein powders and plant proteins such as beans, lentils and soy help satisfy hunger and also help the body to maintain lean body mass. Aim to have a source of protein at each meal and snack.
Vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthy sources of carbohydrate. Vegetables have the fewest calories per bite, followed by fruits, and then grains. All are important to a healthy diet, but while you’re trying to lose, you can shift your focus a bit towards more veggies. Don’t feel you have to choke down the latest trendy fruit or vegetable. There are literally hundreds of edible fruits and vegetables in this world—find the ones that appeal to you.
The calories in fats add up very quickly, so do your best to trim your fat intake wherever you can. Use small amounts of healthy fats—like olive oil, or nuts, or avocado—to add flavor to foods, but don’t overdo it.
Even if you make the right choices, you won’t lose weight if you are still eating too much. If this sounds like you, try cutting your portion size by about 20% to start. It’s a small enough change to not be that noticeable, but it could be just enough to get your weight moving again.
Skipping meals rarely works as a weight loss strategy—most people just get too hungry. Most people find that eating small amounts of food every few hours works best. It doesn’t take a lot of food to satisfy hunger, and you’ll never go so long without food that you get overly hungry.